Posted by: wrmcnutt | January 18, 2011

Voyage to Knoxville – Part II

When last we left our story, my apprentices and I had almost completed the five and a half hour voyage from my slip at Lake Loudon to downtown Knoxville Tennessee.  The weather was clear and cloudless, but there was no wind.  Which brings me to the redneck boom tent.

About 2/3 of the way through the voyage on a windless day, well, it began to get a little toasty out there. September 6 may look like “Autumn” on the calendar, but in East Tennessee, it’s still swimming pool weather.  We’d been under way for over three hours and had reached the heat of the day.  Hats and sunscreen not withstanding, we were feeling more than a little toasty.  Miss Virginia had retreated below to the V-berth for a nap, leaving Fritz and I to cook in the cockpit.  In chatting, I told Fritz that a bimini was on the list of winter projects and the subject of a boom tent came up.  Now, boom tents are normally used at anchor, because they’re impossible to erect while the mainsail is in use.  But, if you recall, not a breath of air was stirring.  The main sheet was cleated and the sail was furled anyway.  Fritz suggested that as the V-berth linens were aboard, we might use a sheet for a boom tent.  But told him we could do better than that. My mother-in-law had made a hand-stitched quilt for the boat, using a classic Appalachian pattern called “sailboat.”  So, taking a firm grip on the edge of the quilt, we yanked it from under the napping Miss Virginia, and six bungees later, we had rigged what we christened the “redneck boom tent.  It was a little low in headroom, and cut forward visibility by about 80%.   But at least we were no longer frying.  We flew the redneck boom tent until we rounded the last bend and were getting ready to enter the special “no wake zone” set up for Boomsday.   To date, my wife has not forgiven us for not getting a picture. It was to stretch from the L&N Railroad Bridge, locally called the Orange Bridge, to the South Knoxville Bridge.  Now, running flat out we don’t exactly kick up much of a wake, so that wasn’t going to be a big deal.

But we did get some entertainment out my my markings.  Those of you who don’t cruise the waters of East Tennessee probably aren’t aware, but the majority of our nautical law enforcement, at least in recreational areas, comes from our game warders, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources guys.  And they were out in force.  It had been widely published that it was a no wake zone.  New temporary markers with signs eight feed wide and letters a foot tall in scarlet read “no wake zone.”  But the TWR guys were flagging down everyone and advising them where the no wake zone was.  Me, I got pulled over entirely.  They wanted to see my paperwork and, of course, get a life preserver count.  I’d made an error in my documentation, and it would haunt me the entire day.  I’d paid through the bloody nose to get my boat registered, but I’d mislaid the sticker.  I went ahead and had the Tennessee numbers painted on the bow when I re-christened her.  But I’d mislaid the tax sticker.  So I left the old Virgina (no-relation) sticker in her bow.  Boy, those TWR guys sure do have sharp eyes.  The conflict between my Tennessee registration numbers and Virginia sticker raised some questions.  But I’d brought every single scrap of paper associated with the boat and was able to illustrate that I’d paid my taxes and was the owner of record of the vessel.  Good thing, too, because: Every. Single. TWR officer.  On the river needed to see them. I surrendered my papers no fewer than four times that day.

A quick note on the presence of Law Enforcement on the River.  That day the TWR were out in force, naturally.  The Knoxville Police Department was well represented, with four power boat and two guys that made me grin.  They were young.  Maybe twenty five or so, under two percent body fat, and mounted on jet skis.  They cruised the river like motorcycle cops, acting as outriders for one of the UTPD power boats.  They had iron jaws, high-and-tight haircuts, and just radiated a “take me seriously on my jet ski” vibe.  I saw at least two boats from the Knoxville Country Sheriff’s department, as well as the County Search and Rescue team, and at least three boats with Coast Guard Auxiliary markings.

There was no piracy all day.  Of that, I am certain.

So, leaving no wake, we moved through an ever growing field of boats, from small tin bass boats to thirty foot motor yachts and headed into the no anchor zone.  In a few hours, all boats would be banned from the zone, and the fireworks display would begin.  But first, we had to recover our wives.  We moved past downtown and the fair zone, up past Calhoun’s On the River, and up toward the Ned McWherter Landing.  The Landing is located under the South Knoxville Bridge, and consists of two very serviceable boat ramps, an absolutely no frills finger dock, and a fishing platform that they really don’t want you tying boats to. No cleats at all.  We got to the landing early, and would have to wait nearly an hour before the additional crew would be at the rendezvous.  Traffic at the boat ramp was heavy and there was no parking at the fishing platform, so we crossed the river and set the anchor.  Once at anchor we broke out the fortifying malt beverages a chatted.  The only downside was that with the sun dropping behind the ridge, the bikini got covered up.

An hour later and right on time, the rest of the crew arrived and we picked them up at the fishing platform and motored back downstream, under the two bridges, past the no boat zone, and into the anchorage.  The field was large, for the Tennessee River.  There were over a hundred boats on our side of the no go zone alone, but everybody was well behaved and everything worked out fairly smoothly. Dinner was served aboard, a beef stew Virginia and I had made the night before.  (For a beef stew that will be wildly successful, stay away from the stew beef in the meat case.  Go with sirloin.  You won’t regret it.  We also had a selection of cheeses and crackers.)

What’s to be said about the fireworks show?  If you like fireworks, it was great!  A thirty minute cordite extravaganza with a magnesium firefall coming down from the Henley Street bridge in a giant curtain of searing white. The whole thing is syncronized to a musical accompaniment broadcast by one of the local radio stations.  From the river most of it was magnificent.  I’ll be doing it again next year.  From a little further back. We were one hundred yards downstream of the no go zone.  The smoke from the first part of the show got so thick overhead that we were unable to see the finale.  Plus, we got cinders all over the deck.

By the time the crew was dropped off back at the dock, it was almost midnight.  My best speed back to the slip would have me getting in at 5:00 AM.  Full of good food and with a long day behind me, I decided to raft up at Calhoun’s.  I pulled up next to a motor yacht and asked to tie on.  Having had most of my experience sailing dingys, I still think of Charleston Lady as my “big boat,” at nineteen feet. This is something of an illusion on my part.  The yacht I was tying up to was average for the boats in the raft off of the Calhoun’s dock, and she easily had ten feet on me.  Her rail was easily five feet above my foredeck.  Her skipper observed that I would need another fender, and when I went to move one from my outboard side he said, “Here, I’ve got a spare.”

It filled my cockpit.  Well, the footwell, anyway.

The voyage home the next day was quite different.  I single handed it.  There was enough wind to make it worthwhile to raise sail twice.  For five minutes each.  There was a lot more river traffic.  Most folks made the same decision I did, and opted to stay downtown, either at upstream marinas, at anchor, or rafted.  I headed home early, and as a result, was constantly overtaken by power boats of various sizes, and they made it a rough ride.  The voyage downstream took a hour less than the upstream voyage.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise.  Going against the current, you get slowed down.  Going with the current, you speed back up.  Overall the trip was a relaxing, low key adventure, and one I intend to repeat.  When it gets a little warmer.

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